The most highly anticipated casting since Vivien Leigh in "Gone With the Wind" may just have happened.
Rosamund Pike, the British actress, beat out the stars whose names had been bandied about to star in "Gone Girl," the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-seller. (Sorry, Charlize and Natalie!)
There's something invigorating about the process of casting a movie being adjudicated in the entertainment press. (This reporter had been convinced for weeks that Natalie Portman would end up playing the lead role in "Gone Girl!" Oops!) A movie can be no more or less than itself -- but a list of names of potential stars extends infinitely outward, allowing for a million different versions of a movie, some better, some worse. It's almost a comedown to watch a movie whose casting process has been hashed out in the press -- but the anticipation that's built after watching the casting happens helps to ensure that the public will buy tickets. (Carey Mulligan herself is not particularly interesting; the story her director told Vogue about how her "Gatsby" audition was much better than many more-famous actresses' is!)
Here are some recent casting processes that have held particular interest -- in some cases, much more than the films themselves, which those leaking the audition call sheet to reporters may know.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (released December 2011)
Plenty of names were bandied about to play Swedish computer hacker -- Natalie Portman, Ellen Page, and Carey Mulligan among them. And director David Fincher has admitted that Scarlett Johansson very nearly got the role, but for the audience's desire to "take her clothes off." (Thanks, David!) The role ended up going to near-unknown Rooney Mara, who'd had a cameo role in Fincher's "Social Network." Lucky her: She ended up with an Oscar nomination and several more opportunities to display her quavery, alien charms. Pity poor Emma Watson, who cut off all her hair for nothing.
"The Hunger Games" (released March 2012)
The ultra-popular teen franchise courted several Oscar nominees, with the very young Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld up against the slightly older Jennifer Lawrence, who got the role on the back of her turn in tiny indie "Winter's Bone." It came down to a question of age -- Steinfeld and Breslin would have forced the franchise to cast male leads in their young teens. Though she didn't get the role, even being in contention seemed to boost wee Steinfeld's profile in the wake of her Oscar moment; she's playing a lead role in the upcoming franchise movie "Ender's Game."
"The Amazing Spider-Man" (released July 2012)
Pity poor Josh Hutcherson, one among several young stars who auditioned for the role "Social Network" star Andrew Garfield ended up getting in the revivified superhero franchise. Unlike just about every working actor under 28, all of whom had been said to have auditioned, Hutcherson saw his audition tape landed online (unsurprising, given the interest as to who'd land the role). It's likely Hutcherson isn't overly troubled, having already been hooked into the "Hunger Games" franchise as the male lead.
"The Great Gatsby" (released May 2013)
Blake Lively was constantly swirling around the discussion of "Gatsby," though gossips reported that Leonardo DiCaprio's then-girlfriend wasn't actually in final contention for the role. Carey Mulligan got the role over Rebecca Hall, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams, whose short hair would have actually made her a rather perfect Jazz Age muse.
"Gravity" (forthcoming in October 2013)
After Natalie Portman turned down the lead role in Alfonso Cuarón's highly anticipated deep-space thriller (one that Angelina Jolie had already rejected, too), Blake Lively, Scarlett Johansson, and Marion Cotillard all auditioned in a very public search for the perfect person to play an astronaut floating alone. (Blake Lively, whose name seems to come up quite a bit in casting searches, may not seem like the NASA type, but she already played an aeronautics tycoon in "Green Lantern"! ) The part ended up going to Sandra Bullock, and after all the delays, George Clooney replaced Robert Downey, Jr. as the male lead.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" (forthcoming in August 2014)
Director Sam Taylor-Wood has been chosen, but no cast has been announced for the sure-to-be-racy adaptation of the Kindle potboiler. While little is yet known about who's even in contention -- names like Alex Pettyfer, Ian Somerhalder, and Matt Bomer keep cropping up in unconfirmed rumors that may as well be fan fiction -- the search will keep movie fans entertained in the absence of, you know, a movie.